Helping ADHD Students Be Successful in School
by Jennifer Cummings, M.Ed.
Helping ADHD Students Be Successful in School
Many students today work with the symptoms associated with ADHD. Typically, there are several academic challenges faced by students with this diagnosis. All too often, medication is pursued as the only way of helping these students be more successful in the classroom, or at times, medication alone is not the full answer for these students.
However, there are other techniques that can be used to help students with ADHD be better academic achievers, regardless of their families’ decisions regarding medication. With the cooperation and full effort of educators, parents, and the students, themselves, these techniques can be helpful to many students.
First tip: organize, organize, organize!
Many students with ADHD have tremendous difficulty maintaining personal organization. This can lead to lost papers, incomplete assignments, missing books, and a host of other problems that hamper educational achievement. Students with ADHD often need to be taught organizational skills that other students may pick up through observation in the classroom. Some things you can do to help your child’s organization:
- Create checklists for items that need to be brought to/ from school. Post in conspicuous places. At home, post lists on the door used to leave or the refrigerator; at school, have your child post the list in their locker or on their desktop. Have your child check the list themselves each time they leave for an activity. You may need a checklist of each activity, too, such as baseball or drama practice. Use color-coded index cards to keep them organized
- Have your child organize ahead of time. Few children can organize well on the run- they simply do not have the skills to do so. However, ADHD children need to have specific times set aside to focus on getting their things together. Take 10-15 minutes at night to organize for the next day’s activities and school.
- Plan for mistakes. The goal for your child is independence, but everyone knows perfection never happens in a day. Ask your child’s teacher for a set of textbooks for home at the beginning of the school year. If this is not possible (and in some districts, this may not be allowed), ask if you can borrow the book on the weekends to photocopy upcoming pages.
These should be used as a “last resort” for your student, not something to depend on instead of binging work home. However, by having these fallback pages, you will eliminate additional fighting over missed homework. If you find you need to use the spare books too often, be sure to re-evaluate the plan your student has for bringing home required work.
Second tip: provide positive structure.
“Positive structure” refers to the plans and routines that are in place in your home to promote regularity, predictability, and order. They do not refer to types of punishments given out for different offenses. Every student, but especially those students with ADHD, benefit from having positive structure in their lives. When students are able to predict what will happen next, they are more prepare for it and are better able to handle tasks. ADHD students, in particular, often respond well to having predictable routines. Some ideas for positive structure include:
- Have a specific bedtime and wake-up time each day. Bedtime should be a routine, just like other facets of daily life. If left to their own devices, many students would be up until the wee hours and then asleep at school. However, establish family rules on what the bedtime routines is, such as tooth brushing, last drinks, reading in bed, or other activities. Generally, ADHD students do not respond well to watching TV before bed, as it tends to keep them awake; be sure to address this issue as a family ahead of time, especially if your child has a TV in their room. Sleep is vitally important to all students, and this should be a priority; making this into a routine helps make this possible.
- Have a dependable after-school schedule. Write down specific times and activities for each day of the week. By having a schedule of all activities, your child will be better able to plan how they need to budget their time each day. It may be difficult to stick to the schedule at first, but KEEP AT IT! Over time, it will become a routine and will make everyone’s life much smoother. ADHD students may take more time to get into the routine, but they, too, will benefit, especially in completing homework, projects, or other less-enjoyable activities.
- Avoid fighting over non-essential issues. The old saying of “pick your battles” is certainly a wise one, especially when dealing with students with ADHD. If your goal is to help your student be more successful in completing their homework, then work on the issues that deal directly with their academic achievement for the moment. Don’t be distracted from setting up good homework and organization routines by fighting over what color clothes your child is wearing. These side arguments only distract you from the real issues and hinder your child’s progress.
- Make home reliable. Some students are able to handle change and uncertainty well. However, many students with ADHD are unable to work to their highest potential with they are out of their routine. Have all adult caregivers on the same page with routines; this helps to maintain a consistency for your child and removes distractions. This may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, or babysitters, depending on your specific home situation. If your child can anticipate the expectations they have at home, regardless of who is with them, they will certainly be more successful.
Finally, your ultimate goal for your child should be independence. All of your checklists, teaching, and planning ahead should be working toward your child’s increasing self-reliance. Over time, with these reminders and tools in place, your child should be able to successfully navigate through school. To encourage this, you should:
- Teach the independent use of items such as checklists, calendars, and other visual reminders. Then, have your child use these items themselves. Begin by going through the activity with them. Then, after some time, remind them to check their lists and get organized, but allow them to do it themselves.
Finally, make your child responsible for getting themselves together. Backsliding? Forgetting again? Go back one step for some time, get your child back on track, then start giving them more space again. Do not give up and organize for them. Know ahead of time that mistakes will happen, and be prepared to help your child move forward.
- Work in the background at school. School is an excellent place for your child to learn greater independence. With the teacher, set up routines that will help your child be successful (such as writing homework in daily planners, for instance). Then, make your child responsible for the routine with some reminders from the teacher.
Over time, make them wholly responsible. Ask for periodic updates from school to let you know what’s working and what isn’t, and meet with the teacher to update routines. Don’t try to set up a routine that removes all responsibility from your child, such as having someone pack their books for them at the end of the day. That only masks the ADHD student’s organization problems; it does not help them fix them.
- Reward success. Each time your child makes a positive step toward independence, you should be sure to recognize their achievement. Your child brought all of their books home during the week? Maybe they can have a friend over on Friday. An entire term of getting themselves organized before school? Maybe they’re ready to handle karate lessons on the weekend. Recognize your child’s effort, but be sure not to let the rewards overtake the gains. Even as a reward, introduce new activities and privileges slowly, and be sure to pull back if things go wrong.
All students need help at some point, and ADHD students are no different.
By planning ahead and anticipating their special academic challenges, with support from home and school ADHD students can be taught to be successful in school, both with and without medication.
"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.
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